Xi Jinping: China's 1st Social Media President?

Xi Jinping: China's 1st Social Media President?

Here's something you don't see every day: the official voice of a one-party state embracing the power of social media to effect change.  It's more surprising still when it comes less than a week after the passage of a law to strengthen control over the Chinese internet, which expanded the reach of rules that require users to provide their real names and that require service providers to engage in first-line censorship, and the evident expulsion of New York Times journalist Chris Buckley.  Nonetheless, Xinhua (the official newswire) and the People's Daily have both weighed in with good things to say about the online anti-corruption drive: an editorial in Xinhua (Chinese link) spoke at length about the role of the public and the media in monitoring corruption, calling social media “a sharp weapon in the fight against corruption” and urging official investigators to keep pace with amateurs (however, also warning of the dangers of leaping to conclusions before a formal investigation).  The People's Daily story (also Chinese) sought to defuse fears that the new law would discourage people from outing corrupt officials online – as the headline put it, “No harm to freedom of speech, no lessening of online anti-corruption drive.”

 

I'm honestly not entirely sure how to reconcile these two trends: on the one hand, expressions of approval for independent public and media oversight of officials, and on the other, the recent push to increase the power of Chinese censors, who are being given new tools to control online content while foreign media outlets are being punished for critical stories about the wealth of Chinese leaders – financial firms have reportedly been told not to buy Bloomberg terminals, while the New York Times is facing difficulty renewing visas for its staff (the foreign ministry is suggesting that Buckley may eventually receive his new visa, but the case is clearly not merely a bureaucratic delay).

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